As the industry prepares to bid farewell to its worst year in living memory, thoughts are cautiously – but optimistically – turning to what will hopefully represent a recovery in 2021.
A programme of vaccination against coronavirus COVID-19 has begun. While it will take months to administer fully, it is a light at the end of a long, dark and despairing tunnel.
And then, attention will inevitably turn to the march towards zero-emission and zero-emission capable operation, with the government’s landmark Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP) set for publication in the early part of 2021.
No hints yet of what sits beyond Euro VI for coach and bus
As Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership Project Manager Dan Hayes notes, the TDP “could hold some ambitious targets for coaches and buses.” No hint has been dropped as to what those might be, but future zero-emission operation in cities will likely be mandated. The TDP could complement that by giving a date by which the sale of pure diesel coaches and buses must end.
If the TDP does implement such a date, it is imperative that the pathway leading to it is clearer than the one that has guided the reduction in emissions thus far.
When it debuted, Euro VI was an environmental wonder. Euro VI emissions came as close to being fresh air as is possible from an internal combustion engine. Take a Euro VI vehicle to a heavily polluted city and what it released would be cleaner than what it sucked in via the air filter, the fable went.
Operators moved towards Euro VI as quickly as they could. London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone, Clear Air Zones (CAZs) in England and Scotland’s Low Emission Zones factored into that thinking.
Now, the industry is told that some CAZs are already redundant. Others may go the same way. It also now finds that zero-emission capability is likely to be the next target, although the possibility of Euro VII has not gone away. Similarly, CO2 emissions may also come into play. Biofuels could thus feature.
No pathway until Transport Decarbonisation Plan arrives
Until the TDP arrives there is still no clear pathway, or timeframe, for expectations beyond Euro VI. While new vehicle procurement is currently much reduced because of the pandemic, that slack will have to be made up. A framework of future emissions-related legislation change is imperative.
Buses already have a clear enough route to zero-emission. But for those involved in the coach purchasing process, the future is much more difficult. That uncertainty is likely to factor into calculations around residual values and by leasing and rental providers. Hybrids may become prominent.
Above anything else it may do, the TDP needs to provide a clear, understandable long-term roadmap for the transition to net zero. Will it?